Cycling Without Age Neenah, Valley VNA Senior Care
Ole Kassow was riding a bicycle in his hometown of Copenhagen, Denmark, when he passed an elderly man using a walker. Kassow started thinking about how sad it would be to lose the ability to ride a bicycle, to never feel the wind in your hair again.
A few days later, he rented a trishaw (like a rickshaw) and showed up at a nearby nursing home and asked if anyone wanted a ride.
Gertrude said yes, and for the next hour as he pedaled, his passenger talked all about her life. When he returned to the home and told the staff about the outing, they said, “But Gertrude doesn’t speak.”
"The initiative is to get both generations to see the value in connecting." — Tracy McGinnis, Director of Philanthropy at Southminster retirement community
“That’s when it started dawning upon me the power of cycling together,” Kassow told a TED Talk audience. After that first ride, he founded Cycling Without Age. The movement Kassow launched has spread to more than 1,100 chapters worldwide. The first U.S. chapter, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was established in 2013.
“When we pedal down the driveway, I ask a few questions and the passengers suddenly open up,” explains Michelle Bachaus of the Wisconsin Bike Fed and the state’s Cycling Without Age program. “They are absolutely relaxed and invigorated at the same time.”
That happiness, Bachaus adds, spreads beyond the trishaw: “People in the community interact, smile and make sure our passengers feel special. One florist in New Holstein gives a flower to passengers as they roll by. Cafes offer coffee. We even get little ice creams from drive-throughs!”
“It really is about human connection, staying engaged and being visible in the community,” says Tracy McGinnis, director of philanthropy at the Southminster retirement community and head of the Cycling Without Age program in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the focus is on older people who live alone or in continuing care communities.
Working with the local parks and recreation department, Southminster has trained young “pilots,” as the trishaw cyclists are called, to engage with their older passengers.
“The initiative is to get both generations to see the value in connecting. Once that happens, younger generations are going to view elders differently and vice versa,” says McGinnis.
Bachaus agrees: “Cycling Without Age really is a social program, not a bike program. It’s all about asking the right questions and actively listening. The bicycle gives the feeling of freedom, and the older passengers just release. Everything they’ve held back just flows, like the wind in their hair.”
This article is an excerpt from the "Create Thriving, Productive Communities" chapter of the AARP book Where We Live: Communities for All Ages — 100+ Inspiring Examples From America's Local Leaders. Download or order your free copy.
Book published June 2018 | Article reporting by Amy Lennard Goehner